Spent some time this evening tasting 2005 Grand Cru Chablis from Laroche and Fevre. It was also the first time I'd met Michel Laroche. As well as being a very good Chablis producer, Laroche is also famous for being an advocate of screwcaps. He's been a pioneer in a country that has been quite slow to adopt alternative closures.
'I started using screwcaps in the 2002 vintage', he explains. 'That year we sold 3% of our total production under screwcap; last year it was 32%; and this year we think it will be 60%'. Interestingly, in 2002 he used the saranex-only liner, which allows more oxygen transmission than the tin liner that has been so popular in New Zealand and Australia. Discussions with Jeffrey Grosset and Michael Brajkovic led him to switch to the tin liner for following vintages. The 2002 Les Clos, bottled with the saranex liner, was on tasting, and showed very well.
How has this shift affected sales? 'We've probably lost 5% of customers, but I think we've gained 15% or more', he estimates. 'I'm not going to change my mind!'
I asked Laroche whether he gets fed up about discussing closures; shouldn't the emphasis be on the wine? But he likes the issue; it's one he feels strongly about. I did ask him about the 2005 vintage. 'My first vintage was 1963', he says, 'when I carried the hod.' [Laroche was 17 then; doing the sums, I reckon he looks very youthful for 60.] 'My first proper vintage was 1967, and a vintage like 2005 is very rare'. He cites the 2005 ripeness levels combined with good natural acidity as being unique in his experience.